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Dozens Of Afghan Politicians At Pakistan Meeting To Bolster Peace Efforts With Taliban

U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (file photo)

Dozens of senior Afghan political figures are attending a peace conference in neighboring Pakistan aimed at paving the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue to end almost two decades of war with the Taliban.

The June 22 conference came ahead of a new round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar that is scheduled for June 29.

The one-day conference at the tourist resort of Bhurban, about 70 kilometers from the capital Islamabad, also came ahead of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's June 27 visit to Pakistan.

Pakistan is believed to have influence within the Taliban and Islamabad’s support is considered key to ending the nearly 18-year insurgency.

Ghani, his political opponents, and a broad swath of civil society have been meeting in recent days with the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been pushing for talks between the Afghan government, the opposition, and the Taliban.

There are no representatives of the Taliban or the Western-backed Kabul government at the peace conference in Bhurban.

Among the over 30 high-profile Afghan figures attending the conference are Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful figure from northern Afghanistan; Ghani's former national-security adviser Hanif Atmar, who is contesting the presidential election; and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious former warlord from the Hezb-e Islami political party. Influential ex-President Hamid Karzai was invited but did not attend.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are looking to improve bilateral relations that are often hampered by mistrust and reciprocal accusations.

Kabul and Washington have long accused Pakistan of harboring Taliban militants who launch attacks inside Afghanistan, but Ghani said he was hopeful that years of mistrust can be replaced by cooperation toward peace.

Pakistan has offered support to U.S. efforts to broker an end to Afghanistan's long war the Taliban.

Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban, has held several rounds of talks in Qatar with senior members of the militant group.

The sides have made progress. But the Taliban has so far rejected direct negotiations with the Afghan government.